Research during COVID-19

Research during COVID-19

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Creative Methodological Readaptations from Barcelona FestSpace team

A webinar, organised by HERA (May 25th, 2021), was designed to discuss field research challenges in pandemic time and to explore new digital worlds in research activities. Representatives of 5 different projects (Healthcare as Public Space, Food2Gather, Public Space in European Social Housing, Intoxicating Spaces and FestSpace)  from the joint research programme Public Spaces: Culture and Integration in Europe presented their methodological reactions to Covid-19 and engaged in a final conversation by sharing and discussing the diverse actions taken by different teams. The recording of the whole event is accessible here

From Barcelona we underline the methodological challenge and readaptations of our project facing COVID-19 and its restrictions. In order to do so, first we briefly explain the pre-covid methodological design to make clear the impossibilities of developing the research as it was planned due to restrictions. Barcelona FestSpace team focuses on cultural events held in the city, with a special emphasis on how public spaces are used by events in terms of social in(ex)clusion. In the first research design, two different cultural events (Festes de la Mercè and Sala-Montjuïc) were chosen with the idea of developing face to face fieldwork research and deep observant participation. Of course, due to the pandemic restrictions, with no cultural events being held in any public space from March 2020, and very restricted access to scarce cultural events from June 2020, the design of the research had to be reconceptualised. A great inspiration for the whole team has been the capacity of Barcelona’s cultural sector to readapt itself and to avoid cancellation of some cultural events by creative and innovative responses. We, as researchers of cultural events, had also to creatively readapt our work in order not to cancel it. Therefore, we suggest to do a quick review about different scenarios we have gone through along the project in the frame of pandemic. 

Staring period: May 2019 – March 2020

The European FestSpace project begins in May 2019, but the Barcelona team begin their activities November 2019 due to particularities of the bureaucratic Spanish system for delivering grants. During the summer of 2019, the IP of Barcelona’s team, Dr. Alba Colombo, conducts a survey with participants of Sala Montjuïc festival and some introductory work with stakeholders from our two pre-covid study cases. From November 2019 to March 2020 the core of the Barcelona team is formed, and some theoretical concepts are drawn to get the team tuned and prepared for the fieldwork.

Pandemic period: March 2020 – January 2021

Pandemic hard restrictions to mobility and social gatherings arrived at Barcelona by March 2020. Since then, the team lives a massive uncertainty about the possibilities of developing the research as it was planned. The development of the pandemic creates restrictions in our calendar and in the evolution of the landscape of cultural events in the city, therefore some creative decisions are taken.

The most important decision was to rule out previous face to face approaches to the field, and going back to the outcomes proposed on the project we decided to create a Barcelona cultural events database in a strong collaboration with the Institut de Cultura de Barcelona (The City Council, Barcelona Cultural Institute). The goal of this work was to enable a mapping and distribution analysis of cultural events of the city, which included events location in relation with different socio-demographic data available, such as the average income of the neighbourhood or the presence of cultural institutions or Airbnb facilities, among others.  

An important step in this constant methodological readaptation was to use the information gathered in the database and the mapping of events to construct a typology of Barcelona’s cultural events. As opposed to the pre-Covid theoretical framing, which included two typologies of cultural events (“cultural industry events” exemplified by Sala Montjuïc and “traditional and popular culture events” exemplified by Festes de la Mercè), the new typology, informed by new data raised from the database and the mapping, forced us to rethink the typology and to improve it by introducing a new type of cultural event which was not present previously: the popular and traditional events which are held by Barcelona citizens with different origins than Catalan culture, which we have named “cultural diversity events”.

The activities of this pandemic period were also accompanied by diverse participations of different members of the team in national and international conferences and webinars, both to explain our readaptations and also to understand and learn from other researchers’ reactions to pandemic. 

Pandemic exit period: from January 2021 onwards

After mapping and identifying the three different types of cultural events in the city, it was considered important to analyze a few, to make in-depth studies. So, through different variables related to the edition, place and people involved, 12 cases were selected. Since then, and following the main goals of the research project, on-site and online interviews with different profiles of organisers, participants and audience of these twelve events are taking place, accompanied by the delivering of a specific survey for each case. 

Aside from the new study cases, our two pre-covid cultural events received a different treatment. For Sala Montjuïc, we are intended to go back to the field this summer, if the restrictions allow us, to repeat the same survey that was conducted in 2019 summer, with the goal of comparing the results of the last pre-covid edition with the first covid edition, taking into account that the event was cancelled in 2020. 

Regarding Les Festes de la Mercè we completely changed the methodological design adapting to the actual situations. As it is a huge event with so many different activities now in constant change, we decide to focus on the most symbolic action, the opening speech, to be able to observe the main general goals of the project, such as space, festivity, inclusion, representation and identity among others. Opening speeches as the most relevant constituent elements of this festivity, have been evolving over the years and therefore we considered relevant to see the development linked to these aspects along the years, from the beginning of democracy until now. 

We were very surprised to discover that the text discourses of the opening speeches were not available to Barcelona citizens. Thanks to the collaboration with our stakeholders in the ICUB (Institute of Culture of Barcelona), this documentation has been found and put together for the first time. Currently, we are working in a textual analysis of the opening speeches in relation with the overarching categories of the European FestSpace project, and we plan to present the results to Barcelona citizens as a public activity in the next Festes de la Mercè this September 2021. 

Some Conclusions

Even though we have problems with relating the pandemic crisis with the opportunities that it has raised, among other reasons because it has been a dramatic experience for so many people and it has deeply affected the landscape of cultural events all around the globe, we are surprised to realise that our collective and creative reactions to restrictions have allowed the conceptualisation of an improved research plan. We had to adapt and to change the whole research project design, nevertheless we consider that now we are in a better position for answering the research questions that guide our project. We improved the theoretical framework, by creating a typology of Barcelona’s cultural events informed by the database and the mapping, we have increased the number of study cases and we have introduced the variable “covid reactions” in our interviews and surveys, among other improvements. 

We are now craving to go back to the face to face research field if the restrictions permit it, and we know now that it is going to be an enriched field work thanks to the previous and creative work in the methodological readaptations of FestSpace Barcelona project.

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